Synopsis from Goodreads: Everyone knows that Chelsea Knot can’t keep a secret
Until now. Because the last secret she shared turned her into a social outcast—and nearly got someone killed.
Now Chelsea has taken a vow of silence—to learn to keep her mouth shut, and to stop hurting anyone else. And if she thinks keeping secrets is hard, not speaking up when she’s ignored, ridiculed and even attacked is worse.
But there’s strength in silence, and in the new friends who are, shockingly, coming her way—people she never noticed before; a boy she might even fall for. If only her new friends can forgive what she’s done. If only she can forgive herself.
My Rating: 4½ stars/5 stars
My Review: When I found Hannah Harrington’s novel Speechless at NetGalley I actually wondered “How good can a book about a teenage girl who takes a vow of silence really be?” The simple answer: extremely good!
Speechless is a cautionary tale of just how damaging words and gossip can be. Chelsea Knot is the central character and she is, without doubt, a bitch. Chelsea has gossiped her way to the top of her high school’s social ladder and she doesn’t care who she hurts or how she hurts them as long as she maintains her position. Chelsea wields gossip like a weapon without ever stopping to think how her words, true or otherwise, can tear apart another person’s life. And then one Friday night Chelsea discovers how her chosen weapon can not only backfire but have tragic consequences for others. One student is in the hospital in a coma and two others are accused of beating that student into the coma. Chelsea knows none of this would have ever happened if she just could have kept her big mouth shut!
To Chelsea’s credit, she does do the right thing and with the help of her parents she tells the police everything she knows about the beating, how it happened and who was involved. Chelsea understands that by doing the right thing it will cost her everything she holds so dear: her friends, her social standing, and thanks to her vow of silence, her voice. Yes, a teenage girl takes a vow of silence – hell hath frozen over! I really wondered how Harrington could pull off a novel where the main character doesn’t actually speak. Turns out, inner monologue can be quite fun and can very easily keep a character moving and developing. Chelsea spends a little more than a month honoring her vow of silence and it is during this month that she discovers what she once held so dear was not ever really worth holding on to at all. Her old “friends” lash out at Chelsea for ratting out two of their own: she is taunted, teased, her locker and car are vandalized, and she becomes a social pariah.
Initially, I found it very, very, very hard to feel any semblance of sympathy for Chelsea. Her words and actions caused the mess she and others find themselves in and she should rightfully face the consequences of those actions. I really didn’t want to like Chelsea but in the end, she surprised me! I honestly don’t think I would have been able to change my opinion about Chelsea if she were using her actual voice and not her inner monologue. In her own head Chelsea acknowledges and faces many hard facts and realities about herself and her actions. She learns words mean something and once out there, they cannot be taken back. Chelsea begins to consider her words more carefully and when she does need to communicate (using a dry erase board) she thinks before she “speaks”.
Chelsea soon discovers that her vow of silence has some pleasant consequences to go along with the bad. She meets a few other social outcasts and while everyone is initially wary of one another the group finally comes together and Chelsea begins to understand what it is to have true friends. Chelsea also begins to understand that, like everyone else, she is human, has flaws, and will make mistakes. Once Chelsea understands and appreciates these revelations she is able to once again use her voice.
The Bottom Line: Speechless is heartbreaking and heartwarming all at the same time and I really had no trouble getting through this book in short order. The plot is solid, the characters (both good and bad) show development and growth throughout, and the overall message that words matter is clear without being preachy. I can absolutely see this book appealing to a wide range of readers including more mature young adults and adults alike.